THE ORTOM POLICY OF NON-INTERFERENCE IN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS OF GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND ITS IMPACT ON DEMOCRACY

By Igba Ogbole

In spite of its imperfections and limitations, democracy as a form of government remains the most appealing and acceptable across the world.
This is largely due to the fact that its ethos and values such as full participation by the citizens, freedom of expression and association, promotion of the Rule of Law, fairness, equity and justice as well as protection of the fundamental human rights, are quite attractive.
In the centre of these democratic values is the Judiciary and judicial system which, according to the popular cliché, is the last hope of the common man who democracy sets out to protect in the first place.
Where the Judiciary is free, independent and dispenses justice to all that approach it fairly and speedily, without fear or favour, democracy and the people are the better for it.
However, where the judicial process is fraught with challenges such as undue influence from the executive and any other quarter, and justice is dispensed on the basis of patronage or inducement, then the stage is set for lawlessness and anarchy.
This is why any leader that pledges to run a government based on fairness and justice cannot afford to toy with its judiciary or interfere in in the judicial process unduly.
It is to further buttress this line of thought that Caroline Kennedy, the United States Ambassador to Japan and daughter of late American President, J. F. Kennedy, says “the bedrock of our democracy is the Rule of Law and that means we have to have an independent Judiciary and Judges who can make decisions independent of the political winds that are blowing”.
Speaking in the same vein, former Arizona Senator, Jon Kyl, says “we have to do everything we can to maintain the independence of the Judiciary and stress that court decisions, to the absolute extent possible, be decided based upon the law and not the policy views of individual Justices”.
Among its campaign promises, the present Administration, headed by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Federal level and Governor Samuel Ortom at the State level, pledged to uphold justice and the Rule of Law as part of their commitment to deepening democracy.
Limiting ourselves to Benue State for now, Governor Ortom, during his inaugural address and at different other fora, has publicly declared his determination to uphold, promote, protect and preach the rule of Law.
Only recently, during a live, phone-in programme on Radio Benue, the Governor declared that to move Benue forward, everybody must always be an advocate of the Rule of Law pointing out that without the Rule of Law in the society, everyone will become vulnerable.
Indeed, he believes strongly that without the Rule of Law, society could descend into the Hobbesian State of Nature, characterized by violence, anarchy and chaos where the weak are helplessly left to the mercy of the strong.
In fact, it is safe to say that Governor Ortom has so far lived up to his promise of respecting the Rule of Law not only by operating a full disclosure and accountability policy in all matters of governance, but also respecting the independence of the Judiciary in the State.
Towards this end, the Governor, as a matter of policy, has chosen not to interfere in the investigation, trial and conviction or acquittal of functionaries of his Government and indeed all others who may have one case or the other to answer before law enforcement agencies or the law courts.
This posture, which many say is a pleasant departure from what to happen in the past, has resulted in the unhindered investigation, trial, conviction, resignation or sacking of some appointees of Government.
As is usual with uncommon actions or policies, the position of the Governor and its consequences have generated a lot of varied reactions from people of different callings and persuasions.
Some analysts have chosen to malign the Governor on the issue, arguing that his Administration is peopled by criminals, but this line of argument is too simplistic and a negation of the Shakespearean truism that there is no art to find the mind’s construction on the face.
Since no man is infallible and cannot predict or foresee the mindset of a fellow man in its fullest, there is no way the Governor could have known everything about all Government functionaries.
The fact that he allows the investigation, trial and conviction or otherwise of Government officials should be seen as a mark of his strength of character, commitment to the Rule of Law and sincerity of purpose.
The truth remains that if the Governor had chosen the path of infamy and decided to protect those appointees in the name of political correctness, he could have possibly gotten away with it.
That he refused to toe the path of dishonor but rather stand by his pledge to respect and promote the Rule of Law, is a mark of statesmanship and commitment to the deepening of democracy.
Apart from that, the Governor’s position on the Rule of Law is a clear signal to all appointees of Government to always be on their toes by avoiding all acts of impunity, corruption and other infractions that are antithetical to the code of conduct of public servants or be prepared to face the music.
The Rule of Law and a judicial process devoid of any form of interference from any quarter, are vital ingredients for the survival of a democratic culture, and Governor Ortom should be commended for championing the promotion of these values.
Mr Ogbole is the Director, News and Current Affairs, Radio Benue, Makurdi.
THE ORTOM POLICY OF NON-INTERFERENCE IN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS OF GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND ITS IMPACT ON DEMOCRACY THE ORTOM POLICY OF NON-INTERFERENCE IN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS OF GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND ITS IMPACT ON DEMOCRACY Reviewed by Link Naija on 12:56:00 Rating: 5

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